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Jace Sternberger offers Packers upside as receiver, needs work as blocker

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The Packers didn’t land the all-purpose tight end they sought, but Jace Sternberger offers hope for stability and upside at the position.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Many analysts expected the Green Bay Packers to add a tight end in the 2019 NFL Draft. Though the wait lasted longer than expected, the team did land one of the rookie class’s top prospects at the position, selecting Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger with the 75th overall pick.

Though not nearly as heralded as fellow 2019 draft prospects T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant and others, Sternberger exceeded all of them as a receiver at the college level, averaging a remarkable 17.3 yards per catch during his final season at Texas A&M. Sternberger totaled 832 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns that year, easily outpacing the production of the tight ends selected ahead of him. Much of Sternberger’s damage came after the catch and defenders generally have a hard time bringing him to the turf. In that sense, Sternberger ranks as perhaps the best pure pass catcher at his position in the draft.

Yet unlike some of his fellow rookie tight ends, Sternberger lags behind as an in-line blocker. Texas A&M frequently lined up Sternberger out wide or on the wing, limiting his exposure to pass rushers. He might never develop the blocking skills or functional strength to operate as a Y tight end, a role still unfilled in Matt LaFleur’s offense. And despite Sternberger’s robust receiving totals, he doesn’t run particularly precise routes and will have some trouble releasing at the line of scrimmage early in his career. Accordingly, Sternberger profiles more as a “move” tight end at the NFL level.

And that presents an interesting dilemma for the Packers. Jimmy Graham, the team’s high-profile addition last offseason, ostensibly fills that role already. While few tight ends make significant Year 1 impacts, the overlap between Graham and Sternberger’s skill sets could make it difficult for LaFleur to consistently get them both on the field at the same time. Granted, that problem might only last for one season -- Graham’s contract and declining athleticism make him a possible if not likely release candidate next offseason -- but it still could inhibit Sternberger’s development in the short run.

Even so, Green Bay spent the previous three offseasons settling for short-term solutions at tight end. Sternberger, even with his faults, offers a shot at stability and upside at the position.